How Do We Stop Division?

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

How Do We End the Division?

A few weeks ago, we looked at how the Gentiles were separated from God by religion, then last week, in my blog titled “Let the Walls Come Down”, we talked about ending division in the body of Christ. Okay, so if we are going to end this division, how do we do it? The beauty is that, just like with salvation, Christ has ended it for us and all we need to do is accept what He has done.

Let’s pick up where we left off last week and look at the next two verses. Ephesians 2:15-16 says, 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.”

Paul starts out these two verses by letting us know that the first thing Christ did to stop the division was to end the system of law. You see, the law did nothing but divide the Church. The Bible is clear that the law was never meant to save us, it was meant to show us our need for God. If we try to keep the law, we will just end up sinning. Take a minute to read Romans chapter 7, Paul explains it very well in that chapter. We also read in Romans 8:3, “The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.” So, the Jewish people of the Old Testament were not saved by the law as some will try to tell you, they were saved by God’s grace, through their faith in the coming Messiah. If you question that, read Hebrews chapter 11, now take a close look at everyone mentioned in that “Hall of Faith”; Able, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the people of Israel, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel, every one of these people lived before Christ, they all lived during the Old Testament times and were all saved by their faith.

So, Christ ended division, first by ending religion. You see, the religious people of the Old Testament times were the ones who made salvation about keeping the law, just like the religious people today often do. Religion is manmade and always tries to make it about us. But, the truth is, we can’t save ourselves, without the death burial and resurrection of Jesus, we have no hope.

Paul finishes verse 15 by saying that Christ was able to end the division between the two divisive groups, “by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.” He made us all one body. I believe I showed you these verses last week, but they are worth looking at again, Galatians 3:26-29 says, 26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.” So, what exactly is this saying? It says that once we are in Christ, ALL division is gone. He says there is no more racial division, there is no more sexism, there is no more class envy, and why is that? Because we are all one in Christ!

So, Christ ended religion, He ended racism, sexism, classism…He ended all the isms. The reason we don’t see denominations in the New Testament is that Christ ended them when He died on the cross.

Verse 16 goes on to say that he brought us together as ONE BODY. So, how did He do that? As this verse goes on to say “Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross” Christ’s death on the cross ended denominations, it ended division, it ended religion. Religion and division were hung on the cross with Christ!

Paul ends this passage by saying, “and our hostility toward each other was put to death.” Friends, if you belong to a church group who are hostile toward anyone, you need to leave, it’s that simple. And, it’s time to ask ourselves, “has my hostility towards others been put to death?” If the answer isn’t a resounding YES, even if you had to hesitate for a moment to think about it, then you need to take care of that right now. Lay the burden of hostility, hate, and division at the feet of Jesus. As it says in Psalm 55:22, “Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.”

Here’s the thing, it’s not really our doctrines that divide us, it’s our pride. You see, we have developed these doctrines and will fight for them to the death. Many of which were contrived by taking scripture out of context, or even worse, someone came up with an idea and then took scripture out of context to back it up. I’ll say it again, the only doctrine that matters is salvation by God’s grace, through our life-changing faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ…absolutely nothing else matters! Paul told the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified.” Again, nothing else matters!

Let The Walls Come Down

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

Let the Walls Come Down

Far too often people accuse Christians as being racist, prejudiced, or sexist and sadly that is often the truth. I have even heard pastors and other people who identify as Christians try to take scripture out of context to defend their bigoted beliefs. Ephesians 2:13-14 tells us, 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. 14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.” You must realize, at that time Jew and Gentile were the big racial division, Jews hated Gentiles and vice versa.

Do you see what it says in verse 14? It says that “Christ himself has brought peace to us.” Then, it goes on to say that He united all races on the cross. It says He broke down the walls of division. By now you know that I love music and there is a song from the 90s that I love. It’s by the artist, Steve Green and the song is called, “Let the Walls Come Down”, the song says:

All throughout the spirit realm a fearsome battle rages
The fates of men and nations hang suspended in the fray
Walls designed by Satan in the twilight of the ages
Now stand as great divisions all across the world today

Walls not born of government nor strife amid the nations
But walls within our churches and between denominations
Stones of dry tradition carved in fear and laid in pride
Become a dismal prison to those withering inside

Chorus:
Let the walls come down
Let the walls come down
Let the walls that divide us
And hide us come down
If in Christ we agree
Let us seek unity
Let the walls
Let the walls come down
Let the walls
Let the walls come down

Here’s the thing, Paul said in Galatians 3:26-28, 26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” How much clearer could he be? There is NO division in Christ!

We see this again in Paul’s letter to the Church at Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 12, he is comparing the Church to a human body. He is talking about how we all have different spiritual gifts and abilities and how each of these gifts represents different parts of this body. In verses 26 and 27 he says, 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. 27 All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” I want to be clear because I never want to look like I’m taking anything out of context. This passage is talking about the gifts of the Spirit not different races, but these two verses apply to both. We are all different parts of the same body; no part is better than the next and no part is dispensable. If one suffers, we all suffer and if one is blessed, we are all blessed.

In 1 Corinthians 1:10, right at the beginning of the letter, Paul pleads with the Church to get along, he says, “I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” Do you see that? He says there is to be NO division in the Church!

I’m going to move away from the topic of racial division for a minute. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it. If you are a Christ follower, you are my brother or sister. The only thing that should divide us is, do you believe in salvation by God’s grace, through your life-changing faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Absolutely nothing else matters! If the Church is going to survive, if we are to make an impact on our world today, we must tear down the walls of prejudice, racism, sexism, and denomination. This is the only way we will survive!

As a whole, racism and sexism have been removed from the Church today. Sadly, there are still people calling themselves Christians who are ignorant, and there will always be ignorant people out there. But we must stop the division of denominations! Again, I’m not talking about ecumenicalism. I’m not talking about throwing out all doctrine and standing around a campfire and singing kumbaya.

The problem is that most of the doctrines that divide the different Christian denominations were derived by someone taking something out of context, or even worse, someone coming up with a doctrine, then taking scripture out of context to validate it. I wrote one of my earlier blogs titled, “An Example” on one of these divisive doctrines, that of dispensationalism. I chose that specific doctrine because it was one I was taught my whole life and believed most of my life. But, when I put away everything I was taught by men and took the Bible literally, in context, as a whole, I saw the truth.

When I started writing my book, which should be coming out soon, I asked many pastors why they were part of whatever denomination they belonged to. I kept getting the same answer, they would say, “I am, fill in your denomination, because of how we interpret scripture.” I then would ask them, “Do you believe the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, verbally inspired word of God?” Well, not surprisingly, they all said yes, so I went on to ask them, “Are you perfect?” They all answered no so I said, “So, if you are not perfect, then your imperfect interpretation would make scripture no longer perfect.”

You see, the Bible never says that we are to interpret it. We must start taking the word of God literally, in context, as a whole. The problem is that this approach takes a lot of time and effort and it is easier to believe what other people are telling us. We, that is all Christians, must start doing the work. We must do the hard work as it says in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.” The thing is, we should want to. This is the book that God wrote to us, if you love God, you should long to read His book.

It is my belief that if we all were to do this. If we all were to study the word of God literally, in context, as a whole, we would all believe pretty much the same thing, and the walls of division would start coming down.

All My Hope is In Jesus

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

All My Hope is In Jesus

I grew up in an Independent Baptist church in South Florida. I loved my church, they were kind and good intentioned people, they loved God and loved each other, but that was where it ended. Their philosophy was, if you aren’t us, you are wrong! They had that “Us four and no more” mentality. Their view of church unity was that our little church needed to be united against sin. Well, that didn’t go very well for us because, like so many other churches with that mindset, we had church splits, and feuding among the members…we weren’t very united even among ourselves.

We see that same attitude among the Hebrews of the Bible. Look at Ephesians 2:11-12. This passage comes right after Paul talked about salvation being by God’s grace, through our life-changing faith and how we are God’s masterpiece. These two verses say, 11 Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope.” See there? Paul is saying that, up until that point, the Gentiles had been pushed out by religion. But here is the real question, how many people today are still being pushed away from God by religion? Religion ostracizes unsaved people for their sin. It judges them and tells them that God hates them. The fact is that God doesn’t hate anyone. He doesn’t hate homosexuals, He doesn’t hate Muslims, He doesn’t even hate criminals or murderers. God hates their sin, but He still loves the sinner.

A great example of how religion pushes away sinners is the town where we planted a church back in Florida. We kept meeting people who were struggling with addiction and would ask them why they didn’t go to any of the four churches in town. Every time the answer was that they didn’t feel welcome at any of them. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that any of those church people were intentionally trying to make the addicts feel unwelcome, but their religion was.

Here’s the thing, sinners will sin! We can’t push them away for sinning, if we do that they will never come to Christ. Now, that being said, we can’t water down the gospel either. We must preach the truth about sin but not make the sinner feel ostracized for their sin, we must preach the truth in love as it says in Ephesians 4:15, “Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.” We must stand strong against the sin but love the sinner.

Let’s take a look at the parable of the Great Feast in Luke 24. If you remember this parable, the master was throwing a big feast and invited all of his friends. When the day of the feast came, his servant went out to bring his friends in. The servant came back with the message that these so-called friends all gave excuses why they couldn’t attend. Then, in verses 21 through 24 we see, 21 “The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’22 After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ 23 So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. 24 For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.’” This is a picture of heaven but notice that when he sent them out to bring in the poor, cripple, blind and lame, he didn’t say to clean them up first. The same thing happened when they went back into the country lanes and behind the hedges. He just said to bring them to Him, in fact he said to beg them to come in. He didn’t tell us to clean them up first, that’s His job. The Gentiles were only able to come to Christ after the walls of religion were brought down and they were able to see the love of Christ in the believers.

But, he didn’t stop there. He goes on to say, “In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them.” Do you see that? Because of religion, the Gentiles never knew God’s love. I have to ask again, how many people today miss out on God’s love because all they see in the Church are people who fight amongst themselves and look down their nose at everyone else?

Some think that God restricted salvation to the Hebrew people in the Old Testament, but we know that this isn’t true. Look at Rahab, she not only was able to come to God, but even ended up in the lineage of Jesus. We don’t see many of these examples in the Old Testament because religion kept the Gentiles out, but there are some.

This verse ends by saying, “You lived in this world without God and without hope.” What a desperate place to be. Living without God IS living without hope because all hope is in Christ, take a look at Colossians 1:27, “For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you the hope of his glory.”

When I was a child, I got lost in one of the Smithsonian museums while on a family vacation in Washington, DC. I was only 5 years old, but I remember it like it was yesterday. It was probably only a minute or two before they found me, but it seemed like an eternity. We have probably all been there at some point in our lives, so you know that feeling of hopelessness. Wondering if they will ever find you.

The beauty is that in Christ we have the Hope of His Glory. All our hope is in Christ! I want to leave you this week with the lyrics to a song by David Crowder.

All my hope is in Jesus
Thank God that yesterday’s gone
All my sins are forgiven
I’ve been washed by the blood

Live Free and Love Others

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

Live Free and Love Others

In honor of the 4th of July, I wanted to talk a little about freedom. Freedom is something we talk a lot about in America, and we must protect our freedom as Americans at all cost, “against enemies both foreign and domestic.” But, today I want to talk about real freedom, I want to talk about what it means to be “free indeed”. Jesus said it Himself in John 8:34-36 when He said, 34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin.35 A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.” You see, we were slaves to sin, but when the Son sets us free, we are truly free. Isn’t that beautiful, to be free indeed? So, if you want to know where to find true freedom, 2 Corinthians 3:17 tells us, “For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

We see that in Christ we are free from sin. There are many more verses about this, verses like Romans 6:14 where it says, “Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.” Do you see that? Before Christ we were slaves to sin, that means that sin was our master. Now that we are in Christ, we are free from the mastery of sin. It also says this in Galatians 3:22, “But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ.” So, there is no promise of freedom outside of Christ.

Christ has not only set us free from sin, but He also set us free from the law. Look at Galatians 4:5, “God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law so that he could adopt us as his very own children.” You see, as it says all through the book of Romans, and for that matter all through the New Testament, the law was never meant to save us, it was only meant to show us our need for God. The Hebrew people of the Old Testament made it about keeping the law because we humans always want to make it about us. There are many churches today who still do the same thing. I’m sure we all know people who believe that if you are a good person you will go to heaven, but the Bible is clear in the fact that that isn’t true. We are not only free from sin, but we are free from the curse of the law and need to make sure that we never put ourselves under that curse again. Look at Galatians 5:1, “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” If we are TRULY free in Christ, why would we want to put ourselves under the law? That doesn’t make any sense at all. Let’s not even think of going back there. Look at Galatians 2:4, Even that question [the question of Titus’ circumcision] came up only because of some so-called believers there—false ones, really—who were secretly brought in. They sneaked in to spy on us and take away the freedom we have in Christ Jesus. They wanted to enslave us and force us to follow their Jewish regulations.” Do you see that? The people who try to put us under the law, the Bible refers to as “the false ones.” They are false teachers trying to deceive and enslave you! In fact, in Galatians 4:12 Paul pleads with them not to fall for this, “Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things, for I have become like you Gentiles—free from those laws. You did not mistreat me when I first preached to you.” In fact, even creation looks forward to this freedom, look at Romans 8:21, “the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.”

Here’s the thing though, freedom doesn’t come for free. First, we see that there is a responsibility that comes with freedom. 1 Corinthians 8:9 tells us, “But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.” So, do I have the freedom to drink a glass of wine at with dinner? Of course, I do unless I’m having dinner with an alcoholic or a nonbeliever who doesn’t think it’s right, then it is my responsibility to abstain so as to not make them stumble. We see this scenario in 1 Corinthians 10:27-33. In this passage, it is dealing with a believer being asked to someone’s house and served meat that was offered to an idol. First, it tells us to eat and not ask questions, but if they tell you, don’t eat it for their conscience sake. Then it asks the question, “why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks?” His answer is in verse 31 through 33. Verse 31 says, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” And, then he finishes it up in verse 33 by saying, “I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved.” So, the answer to the question is that if we are offending unbelievers with our freedom, then give them up so they can be saved. Do everything to God’s glory.

Galatians 5:13-15 sums this all up so well, it says, 13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. 14 For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 15 But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.” First, don’t use your freedom to do sin. We are not free to sin, we are free to live in Christ. He says to use our freedom to serve each other in love. To the world that seems like an oxymoron, “I’m free to be a servant?” Yes, exactly. Our world today lives for themselves, but as Christians, nothing gives us more joy than helping someone else. Then he says the whole law can be summed up in one command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s that simple.

The last thing I want to look at today is that freedom always comes with a price, and that price is always blood. Our freedom as Americans came with the price of the blood of many soldiers who have fought and died for our freedom. Men and women who have laid their life down for our freedom, and we want to salute them today. But our freedom in Christ came with His blood. He laid down His life for you and me. His first sacrifice was to leave heaven to live here on earth, then he was beaten, humiliated, and crucified for you and me, and He did it at just the right time. 1 Timothy 2:6 says, “He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.” So, Live Free and Love Others.

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